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boy-2028167_1280June has been my best month as a freelancer so far, and the month is not even finished. I have sold more books and had more income this month than I’ve ever had.

I wish I could specifically list what I’ve been doing this month that has worked so well, but the truth is, I don’t know. I’ve done some new shows, but most of what I’ve been doing is the same.

I would say that my record month is a culmination of a lot of things. I’ve been working hard for years, and I continue to do a lot of hard work to build my business. I say this because I’ve seen my annual income and average monthly income rising steadily for the past five years. In fact, I just looked at my chart and saw that I will have made more by the end of July than I made in all of 2012!

Here are a couple things that I can recommend that have helped me be able to work full-time as a writer:

Be willing to try new things. I am willing to try new marketing methods, sell at new shows, and speak to new groups. If the opportunity makes sense and I can afford it, I will try it. Most of the time, it proves very worthwhile. Only a few times can I say that doing something new was a waste of my time. Even the things that don’t work for me give me information that help me make better selections for future opportunities.

Evaluate the opportunities you take. I have been breaking down each of my events to an hourly cost in order to know whether it was worthwhile or not. I may sell a lot of books at one event, but it that event cost a lot for the table, required overnight stays, and meals, the hourly rate may be less than a smaller show that is close to where I live.

Continue to write. You can’t write one book and expect to make a living from it. I publish at least one book a year. Lately, I’ve been doing more than one book a year because I write in different genres. This new material fills the need my fans have when they approach me at shows year after year and ask, “What do you have that’s new?” My growing backlist also provides plenty of material that I can use for promotions that I use to attract new readers.

Good luck in your efforts to make a living as a writer. It can be done.

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checklist-clipart-response-clipart-clipart-pencil-checklistSo in the past two weeks, I’ve talked about how going the extra mile and developing a relationship with the editor. For this final piece, I’m going to look at how becoming an expert in your field will help you get more assignment.

I’m not talking about getting a degree in every subject you want to write about. You can become an expert by writing extensively about the subject.

This is something that comes with time. As you consistently work with a magazine, your work may tend to fall into a niche. Usually, my niche is history, but I’ve written two stories with Hagerstown Magazine that accidentally turned out to be health stories. I’ve also written health stories from time to time with other magazines. I now have a niche in health writing.

As you start to develop a niche, the editor will begin to recognize you as such. You will become the magazine’s go-to person for that topic. It doesn’t mean you can’t pitch the magazine other stories, it’s just what you’ll become known for. When I first contacted the editor of Allegany Magazine about doing stories for him, he was very excited because he was a fan of my column, so he knew my work and was anxious for me to do local history articles for the magazine.

That’s not to say I only do history articles for the magazines. I’m working on a feature piece now about a local bookseller’s experience running a bookstore in Ireland.

Becoming the go-to person: The benefit of becoming an expert is that when the editor is looking to assign a story in your niche, you’ll be the first person to come to mind. The bad news is that you won’t be the first person to come to mind if it’s not your niche.

Extra benefits of being an expert: Becoming the go-to person for a topic leads to more than just editors contacting you with assignments about your topic. I know a man in Cumberland who collected historic postcards and pictures for years about Western Maryland. Throughout the 1980’s and 1990’s, he published them in numerous books. He is considered the go-to man for local history in Cumberland and he is the first person everyone thinks about when they need a photo, a judge for a contest, a speaker, etc.

Continually improve your writing skills: Another aspect of becoming an expert includes becoming an expert writer. I’ve been writing professionally since 1988 and I still look for ways to improve and expand my skills. Never stop learning.

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adult-2242164_640Last week, I wrote about how to get more freelance assignments by going the extra mile. This week, I want to talk about how to get more assignments by developing a relationship with the editor.

Just to be clear, I’m not talking about becoming buddies so that the editor does his or her friend a favor and gives you work. I’m talking about developing a professional relationship where you work well together to create an excellent finished product.

When you first start working with an editor, you are strangers. You may not have met or even spoken to one another. However, as the saying goes, “The work speaks for itself.” As you submit assignments, the editor begins to trust your ability to meet deadlines and deliver quality work.

Don’t underestimate the value of that trust. Chances are editors work with dozens of different writers and not all of them are professional or dependable. The fact that you are puts you a few steps ahead of them.

What’s the value of this to you? It means your stories will get accepted easier. A borderline idea might be rejected if the editor doesn’t know the writer, but if the editor knows you, he or she may be more willing to take a chance. I’ve had stories assigned to me after just writing a sentence or two to the editor about an idea.

Another nice thing is that once editors know what you can do and how well you do it, they may contact you to write stories. I love when this happens because it means that’s less work I have to do coming up with a story and querying different markets. I just had this happen recently when I ran into an editor I know and she asked me if I was interested in taking on an assignment that she had.

Meeting deadlines

I mention meeting deadlines a lot as a talk about freelance writing. That’s because I have been an editor who has had to wait and see if a new writer is going to deliver a story on time and in what shape it will be.

You may think being a little late is fine because the magazine the article is supposed to appear in is not due out for a couple months, but you have to understand that your deadline is just an early one in a series of deadlines that will allow the magazine to come out on time. There is some wiggle room, but not as much as you might think. Besides, it’s not your call whether it should be given to you or not.

That being said, sometimes you will run into problems. The story doesn’t work out the way you expect, interviewees don’t get back to you, or you might get sick or have an accident. Things happen. If you do run into a problem that will keep you from hitting your deadline, contact your editor as soon as possible and see what can be done.

Editors won’t hold it against you if you have a legitimate excuse. Don’t dawdle and waste your time with the story, though. Most editors will give you at least a month to complete your article. That sounds like a lot of time. You’d be surprised at how quickly it can disappear when you’ve got other things that need to be done.

I’ve gotten into the habit of creating my own mini-deadlines. For instance, when I had four articles due one month, instead of doing each in bits and pieces, I set it up so I could focus and finish one each week.

You might also want to prioritize. If focus most of my efforts on completing the story that is due the soonest while doing a little bit on any other articles that are coming due in the next month. This might be researching, interviewing, or transcribing notes. I do these things bit by bit so that when each story gets the focus of my attention, I’m ready to write.

Next week, I’ll finish up by talking about becoming an expert.

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Man Relaxing Behind Stack of DocumentsYou can certainly jump right into full-time freelance writing without any preparation. It’s the sink-or-swim method. I can’t say that that way works for most people, but maybe you’re one of the lucky few. Either way, you are certainly making it much harder on yourself to succeed.

I speak from experience on this. The first time I became a full-time freelance writer in the 1990s, I just jumped right in with no work or clients lined up. It was extremely stressful. I was working harder and longer hours than I had ever done before.

The second time I became a full-time freelance writer about 10 years ago was unexpected, but I was actually better prepared than I had been the first time.

Why? Because I had already started doing some part-time freelance writing on the side about six months earlier. I was lucky enough to have a boss who said that as long as the story wasn’t something that could run in the newspaper I was editing, he didn’t mind me freelance writing. Not all bosses are that kind. I had one boss try to tell that I couldn’t do any paid writing outside of the newspaper that I was writing for whether or not it was something that the paper could publish.

Ease into freelance writing. Start writing while you still have a regular paycheck. That way you can gain clients and experience. If you are really new to the writing game, you may need to make your first freelance assignments free or at a very low price in order to get clips. You might also need to do this even if you have experience but are trying to break into a new area. If you have a regular paycheck from a full-time job, you can do this without too much worry.

I would also recommend not specializing in a certain area, at least not at first. That was a mistake I made my first time freelancing. I had a few people lined up who were all part of the biotech industry. The work paid well, but it put me in a narrow pocket that I had a lot of trouble digging out of when I needed to.

Some freelancers can specialize right from the start, but because of that early experience I had just writing biotech materials, I’ve always felt like its too much like putting your eggs in one basket.

The second time I started freelancing, I started out as a generalist. I have developed specialty areas over the years, though. For example, I once pitched a Spanish flu story to a magazine. The editor liked the idea, but wanted it to look more at modern flu, too. So I wrote it from that angle (another reason to query) and turned in a health story. This lead to another health story with the same magazine about colds. With two clippings of health articles, I was able to successfully other health articles.

Another reason to start freelancing on a part-time basis rather than full-time is that it allows you time to build up a savings account that you can run your freelance business from until the checks start coming in regularly. This is called capitalization and under capitalization is the main reason that most businesses fail within 5 years. While freelancing doesn’t require as much capitalization, it does require some, particularly since it may be a month or more before you get paid after turning in an article.

Your overall goal starting out is to build your business. You do that by any means possible. At this early stage you can’t afford to be too choosy. Try everything. You never know what will work or not. Once you can start making a living and reach the point where you can’t fit more in, then you can begin prioritize and cut the least profitable areas from your business.

It’s a nice position to be in.

When I worked for a newspaper, my days were semi-defined. When I was at the office, I worked. When I was home, my time was my own. Now, that I’ve been freelancing for almost two years, I realize that definition is gone because my home is my office. That’s got pros and cons.

The biggest advantage is that I can structrue my day I as need to. If I need to go to the doctor in the middle of the day, I can do that. On the flip side, I find myself working earlier and later than I used to. Of course, I take breaks during the day to do other things like cook dinner, but mentally, it feels like I’m always working.

I’m definitely working more than I did. I did an experiment last month and kept track of my time that I actually spent working. This did not include breaks of any type, including using the bathroom. I found I was working about 45 hours a week. Add in the breaks and downtime that employees get paid for and that 45 hours probably equates to 55 hours or more a week.

It was definitely discouraging to see how my work I’m doing compared to what I’m making. However, I’m going to use it as an incentive to try and find better-paying jobs.

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